Donald Trump traveled to a Boeing plant in South Carolina on Friday, ostensibly to poke around the company’s new jet and sit in the cockpit. But his real interest was the few thousand workers assembled in the hanger, and the television cameras behind them.
“We love our workers, and we are going to protect our workers,” he said. “We are going to fight for our families, and we are going to fight for more jobs and better-paying jobs for the loyal citizens of our country.”
The president’s 20-minute speech, made to a room of people who normally wear hard hats, was more striking for what it didn’t discuss: the role—if any—that organized labor should play in ensuring that prosperity. It was a surprising omission, given the plant’s recent history: Earlier in the week, workers at the very same Charleston-area Boeing facility voted against unionizing. More than 2,000 people rejected the bid from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, out of 2,800 total votes— a pretty big defeat, though not particularly surprising in the labor-unfriendly South.
Perhaps if the Machinists had won, Trump would have been forced to acknowledge them. He instead stuck to pattern, praising workers and promising better wages, but ignoring—though not opposing outright—the efforts unions expend on the same goals.
“If he wanted to talk about the importance of unionization, he could have, over and over again,” said Heidi Shierholz, director of policy at the left-leaning Economic Policy institute. “And over and over again, he chose not to. I do think that does speak to where he is on traditional collective bargaining.”